Boeing’s Starliner Nears Completion of Orbital Flight Test-2, to Return to Earth Tonight From ISS

A new Boeing Starliner capsule was scheduled to descend to Earth on Wednesday from its first uncrewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS), completing a high-risk test flight as NASA’s next vehicle to take humans into orbit.

Less than a week after its launch from the US Space Force’s Cape Canaveral base in Florida, the CST-100 Starliner was scheduled to lift off autonomously from the space station at 2:36 p.m. EDT (12:06 a.m. PT on Sunday). Thursday) to embark on a journey. A return trip of more than five hours.

If all goes as planned, the mission conclusion will come with the gumdrop-shaped craft making a fiery atmospheric entry followed by an air-cushioned parachute landing on desert land near White Sands, New Mexico at 6:49 PM PDT (7:19 AM) IST on Thursday).

The Starliner soared into orbit last Thursday atop an Atlas V rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance of Boeing and Lockheed Martin and achieved its main goal, an appointment with the International Space Station, although four of its multiple thrusters failed along the way.

Boeing engineers also had to devise a workaround for the thermal control defect during the capsule’s final approach to the space station, which orbits 270 miles (430 kilometers) above Earth.

But NASA and Boeing officials said none of the problems encountered so far should prevent the Starliner from returning safely, and they appropriated such shots for the learning process of developing a new spacecraft.

The successful mission will transport the Starliner, which has been plagued by frequent delays and costly engineering setbacks, a huge step closer to providing NASA with a reliable second path to transport astronauts to and from the space station.

Since the resumption of manned flights into orbit from American soil in 2020, nine years after the end of the space shuttle program, the US space agency has had to rely only on Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules from billionaire SpaceX’s company, Elon Musk.

Previously, the only other option for access to the orbital laboratory was to board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which is currently a less attractive alternative in light of rising US-Russian tensions over the war in Ukraine.

There’s also a lot at stake for Boeing, as the Chicago-based company seeks to emerge from successive crises in its aircraft and space defense business unit. The Starliner program alone has cost the company nearly $600 million over the past two and a half years.

Starliner’s ill-fated first orbital test flight in late 2019 nearly ended in the loss of the craft after a software glitch effectively frustrated the spacecraft’s ability to reach the space station.

Subsequent problems with the Starliner’s propulsion system, supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, led to Boeing making a second attempt to launch the capsule last summer.

Starliner remained out of business for another nine months while the two companies competed over why the fuel valves had stopped working and which company was responsible for fixing them.

NASA said a preliminary test mission that ends Wednesday could pave the way for Starliner to fly its first crew of astronauts to the space station early in the fall.

The orbital site currently houses a crew of three American NASA astronauts, an Italian astronaut from the European Space Agency, and three Russian cosmonauts.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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